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Digital Performer: Waveform Editor Tools

MOTU Digital Performer Tips & Techniques By Mike Levine
Published April 2022

Screen 1: The Layers menu gives you access to specific tools for performing particular tasks.Screen 1: The Layers menu gives you access to specific tools for performing particular tasks.

We explore the many tools available in DP’s Waveform Editor.

Recently, we’ve been focusing on the new features introduced in DP11. But one of the highlights of the earlier DP10 release was the complete redesign of the Waveform Editor. It’s got a spiffy new look, and more importantly, a streamlined workflow and more editing options. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the important changes and additions, and at the various types of editing available.

First, though, why would you want to use the Waveform Editor, when the Sequence Editor has many of the same features? The answer is that it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, if you wanted to pitch‑correct a vocal track in a mix or automate Bite Volume on a track, you’re probably better off doing it in the Sequence Editor where it’s in context with other tracks.

The Waveform Editor, on the other hand, lets you work on audio that may not be placed in a track yet. For example, you may want to make loops for the Clips window from an instrument or vocal recording, or extract individual samples. You could also transpose your sample in the Pitch Layer and specify loop behaviour in the Loops layer. You can easily do these sorts of things in the Waveform Editor, where edits apply to all instances of the Soundbite throughout the project. It also provides better focus and more precision than track editing.

Tab Fab

In earlier versions of DP, the Waveform Editor featured different Modes that you could switch between by selecting from a row of tabs. You could choose between Soundbites, Loops, Beats, Tempos, Pitch and Volume. Under each tab was a pull‑down menu, which contained actions available for that Mode. It was easy enough to find what you were looking for, but with all those tabs and pull‑downs, it took up a lot of real estate in the top part of the window.

In DP10, MOTU rearranged the architecture of the Waveform Editor, changing the Modes to Layers. Now, you can access them from a single pull‑down called the Edit Layer at the bottom of the screen (Screen 1). When you select a Layer, DP automatically changes the actions available in the Edit Layer menu, which is another pull‑down just to its right. DP switches to the appropriate tools automatically when you choose a Layer. 

MOTU also changed the functionality and names of some of what were formerly Modes and now are Layers, and added some powerful new capabilities.

The Audio Layer replaces the Waveform Mode of earlier versions of DP. It’s the layer where you can select and destructively edit the actual audio waveform of a Soundbite. You can choose sections to edit or the entire Soundbite and, using the commands in the Edit Layer menu, choose to Normalize the audio, add a fade in or out, or apply plug‑ins.

If you need to repair a click or pop, zoom down to the sample level using the horizontal zoom controls at the bottom right, or DP’s regular zoom key command: Command+right arrow (Control+right arrow on PC). Then use the Pencil Tool, from DP’s main Tool Palette, to draw in your changes.

When you select a Layer, DP automatically changes the actions available in the Edit Layer menu...

Beat It

The Beats Layer is integral to many types of actions and processes that are available in DP. Thanks to the upgrade of the Beat Detection Engine in DP10, Beat placement is even more accurate.

To make sure DP is analysing Beats automatically, go to DP Preferences (Digital Performer / Preferences / Background Processing) and make sure that you’ve checked the Automatically Analyze Beats and Tempo options for both In This Project and Default For New Project. Also, confirm that you’ve checked the Show Beat Grid Lines in the Edit Windows section of the Preferences (Digital Performer / Preferences / Edit Windows).

Screen 2: You can manipulate Beat placement and velocity in the Beats Layer.Screen 2: You can manipulate Beat placement and velocity in the Beats Layer.

In the Waveform Editor’s Beats Layer, Beats show up as green lines with movable handles, as in Screen 2. The handles represent velocity and are essential when extracting grooves, converting Beats to MIDI and more.

In the Beats Layer, you can select Beats, delete Beats, move Beats, change their velocity and more. If you’re extracting individual samples (for example a snare or kick) you can easily do that in the Beats Layer. Select a Beat, which you do by clicking it, and then opening Edit Mode Options and choosing New Soundbite from Active Beat. DP will select the audio from that Beat until the next, and it will appear as a new Soundbite in the Soundbites window.

There are also several new commands in the Beats Layer. Copy Beats as MIDI is one; it lets you create a MIDI version of your Soundbite (minus pitch information). Another is Play Beats as Clicks, which creates a click track based on the Beat placement in the Soundbite. You can use that functionality to check the clicks against the Soundbite’s audio to make sure the Beats are correctly placed.

Stretching Out

DP’s new Stretch functionality allows you to stretch audio in several ways, all of which are based on the detected Audio Beats. In the Waveform Editor, you can open a Soundbite and stretch Beats to change their timing.

Choose the Stretch Layer, and you’ll see the Beats as vertical lines superimposed on the Waveform display. Hover over one of the Beats until you see the hand icon and use that to drag the Beat. You’ll see the waveform move along with it.

Screen 3: You can use the shapes available in the Reshape tool to draw in volume effects in the Bite Volume Layer.Here, a Beat is being stretched. The vertical segments of the pink line are the anchor points.Screen 3: Here, a Beat is being stretched. The vertical segments of the pink line are the anchor points.

As you drag, notice the segmented pink line on either side of the beat. The vertical segments of this line are the anchor points for the stretched beat (see Screen 3). If you hover over an anchor point, you’ll see a little arrow icon, which lets you drag the anchor point to adjust the boundary of the stretch region.

If you want the stretched audio to sound natural, don’t stretch it too far. That said, you can change the rhythm of an audio file with careful stretching.

If you don’t like the results, select all and hit Delete, and the Soundbite will revert to its original state. Again, if you’re working on a track in your mix, and want to make a couple of rhythmic tweaks, you’re probably better off using the Stretch Layer in the Sequence Editor.

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